Escape to Italy: The Rebellious Winemakers of Soave
Old laws aka classification systems
The world’s major wine-producing regions are all governed by state and federal laws which are largely defined through a classification system. Alcohol content, permissible grape varieties, grape yields, blending allowances, approved additives, and more are all regulated by the classification system. This kind of oversight helps ensure a certain level of guarantee and quality in the wine from that region.
If you ask a winemaker, they’ll often tell you that the bulk of these regulations stifle their creativity and potential output. Without the implementation of amendments to ancient or long-standing laws, there’s predictably little room for growth. Let’s dive into Veneto, the Northern Italian region that is home to Venice, Padua’s rich educational history, Romeo and Juliet’s Verona, and numerous wonderful wineries.
DOCs vs. DOCGs
This lesser-known winemaking region is actually Italy’s largest, with 28 DOCs (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata) and 14 DOCGs (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita), which are a part of Italy’s nationally-recognized classification system. The primary differences you need to know between DOC and DOCG are that a DOCG’s restrictions are more detailed and numerous. It is harder to obtain DOCG status as a winery versus DOC. These classification systems, especially in Veneto’s subregion of Soave, have faced a reckoning in recent years brought upon by talented and frustrated winemakers who want more of a say in what kind of wine they can make.
Menti: Voluntarily Declassified
Our Escape to Italy collection features a wine by Giovanni Menti, who is one such frustrated winemaker in Soave. By the turn of the century, Soave’s reputation as a wine sub-region had deteriorated. Wines of the region were frequently transferred to other regions as blending wine or sold in bulk. Wineries making high-quality juice in Soave found it difficult to be taken seriously by the rest of the wine world thanks to the low-quality image that Soave had acquired. As in any other industry, breaking out of a box is challenging and often requires a bold, loud move. Giovanni’s response was to entirely leave the DOC, which is as much a political statement as a strategic one. In abandoning the prerequisites enforced by the region, he expanded his realm of winemaking possibilities but simultaneously placed himself in a type of exile. This meant he could no longer put “Soave” on his labels and was no longer a member of the “union,” so to speak, thereby forfeiting protections that go along with being part of a herd. It also meant that he had the freedom to plant, blend, and bottle what he wanted.
Roberto Anselmi, another renowned winemaker in the region, famously wrote an impassioned letter to the Soave Consorzio (governing body) declaring his “divorce” from the region as well. To this day it is one of the most Italian things I’ve ever seen and includes language like “I’m leaving you forever” (translated). Anselmi has gone on to gain great notoriety not just for his intrepid stance, but for his excellent wines.
The winemakers who have left the Consorzio have certainly made waves. International attention followed in their wake and inspired similar action in other regions. Although not unique to Natural wine producers, this spirit of innovation largely defines the category. Menti’s approach insists on creating the best wine possible: for the consumer as well as the environment, regardless of what the region’s legal guardrails stipulate.